Sunday, January 16, 2022

It’s Debatable: Infrastructure priorities

ohio bridge debatable infrastructure

 

Editor’s note: This commentary is in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine, as part of our “It’s Debatable” feature. In this regular column, we invite organizations and/or individuals to address a particular issue. Click here to subscribe to the magazine, available in both print and digital formats: www.adirondackexplorer.org/subscribe.

The question: What are the top priorities in the park for billions coming to NY in federal infrastructure money?

The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill means $170 billion is slated for New York.

Working with the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, we asked 100 municipalities what they see as the top project in their communities. (Stay tuned for a full report.)

The answers:

Sewer district in Brainardsville needs a $600,000 upgrade

The Town of Bellmont board is bent on updating the Brainardsville Sewer District. It serves 64 residences, a church, a privately owned community center, three small businesses, a U.S. Post Office and the town hall.

Cost estimates for the work exceed $600,000 and the board feels that the district taxpayers cannot afford what is needed to make these improvements. 

We also are under pressure from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to make repairs to this facility. The facility is adjacent to the best trout stream in Northern New York, the Chateaugay River, and the district’s filter bed’s effluent goes to this river.

It is comforting to know that the mandated frequent testing of the effluent shows it passes all required levels for approval. Yet, a new requirement calls for the effluent to be sanitized, preferably by the ultraviolet light system. This mandate is expensive.

—Town of Bellmont Supervisor H. Bruce Russell (Franklin County)

Clean water and access to broadband

Chief among our needs is funding for a downtown water treatment plant upgrade costing $4 million. If divided by 177 users, the cost is a near unmanageable burden. The second priority is a fiber optic broadband expansion throughout our entire town that would connect every home on the electric grid to the internet.

Additional funding needs include financial assistance for year-round rural ferry service between Essex and Vermont, improvements to the electrical grid which finds parts of Essex often in the dark because of our “end-of-the-line” location, improvements to our state, county and town roads to create safer pathways for cyclists and pedestrians (Essex is on a major route for those cyclists circumnavigating Lake Champlain) and EV charging stations for drivers who may spend some time supporting the local economy.

—Town of Essex Supervisor Ken Hughes (Essex County)

$4 million or more for the Harvey Bridge

Ohio’s Harvey Bridge spans the West Canada Creek and it has been repeatedly flagged for a variety of deficiencies. The town has done its best to maintain this bridge, but it’s far beyond rehabilitation. The cost to replace this deteriorated bridge will be over $4 million. Without a substantial amount of federal or state funding in the form of grants, this bridge will soon close.

The bridge remains open at a reduced weight limit of 10 tons. In addition to the cost and inconvenience to highway operations, school district busing, and private trucking and hauling, the reduced weight limit now affects fire department response times, since fire equipment can no longer use the bridge.

Historically, when the town has experienced severe flooding, as was the case on Halloween 2019, Harvey Bridge was the only lifeline to two thirds of the population of the town that is in southern Ohio. Without it, these people would have been completely cut off from any emergency service for days.

—Town of Ohio Supervisor Scott Bagetis (Herkimer County)

Getting drinking water to the residents of Blue Mountain Lake

One of our more pressing issues is a drinking water source for the residents of Blue Mountain Lake. Since the inception of a municipal water district, we have used the lake and an antiquated filtration plant. It is a small district with about 70 users.

The Department of Health has been pushing the town to switch to drilled wells for years, but with most of the land being state owned our opportunities are limited. With help from the Adirondack Experience museum, we started drilling exploratory wells about five years ago. We had very poor results and have expended about $140,000 dollars. We did receive a grant but due to the poor results we have had to change locations and our source of water.

We are now considering Blue Mountain Lake as our source, but with a modern filtration plant.

—Town of Indian Lake Supervisor  Brian E. Wells (Hamilton County)

Photo: Town of Ohio officials list replacing the deteriorated Harvey Bridge over West Canada Creek atop its wish list for federal infrastructure funding. Photo provided

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com




3 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Not only “universal” broadband, but AFFORDABLE broadband offered by competing companies – NOT the typical monopolies entrenched in most rural areas. I had heard Charter/Spectrum was out, yet we still have no other options in my area. Around my area, it doesn’t take long to get an internet/phone/cable package up to $250/mo. For seniors who often spend a great deal of time at home indoors, this is a big chunk of out of our limited income. Simply getting the infrastructure into place does not make it “universal”.

    • Steve B. says:

      As comparison. A typical Verizon FIOS bill for bundled internet, digital and streaming TV as well as landline telephone is in the low $200’s in the Long Island area. I would expect that the competing local cable version (Altice) is probably priced similarly. I would thus expect that companies providing remote area broadband for these 3 services to want to charge what they charge downstate. L.I. s a reasonably high income area, and I would expect that to keep costs low for folks not on that income level, the State of NY, or Federal Government would need to subsidize the infrastructure install (already planned for) as well as the monthly costs to homeowners. Is that considered socialism ?.

  2. JB says:

    Amen to that, Boreas.

    There are plenty of reforms to be had in the tangled “broadband” mess–including officially defining the term itself. If they’re going to run physical lines, then they should take the time to do it right. Right now, deploying broadband infrastructure means subsidizing monopolies that do not need to share their lines with other providers–subsidizing them first to run the lines and then to maintain discounted service for poor households. That seems like short-term thinking with long-term consequences and a poor expenditure of tax-payer dollars. Physical internet infrastructure, in the form of fiber, will indeed be the gold standard for the foreseeable future, but newer, more adaptable technologies are hitting the market everyday–NYC is installing public wireless network infrastructure and pretty soon everyone will be able to buy satellite service that is faster (and probably cheaper) than cable “broadband”.

    I personally think that wastewater treatment should be priority #1. New York State could spend $190 billion just on that, and it still wouldn’t be enough. An essential part of the all-important cluster development in land-use planning is wastewater infrastructure. In the Park, those cluster developments (hamlets and villages) happen to be situated mostly on important headwater lakes that eventually become someone else’s drinking water. Encouraged by the State and local chambers of commerce alike, they have huge annual population swings and too little infrastructure funding to show for it.

    Wastewater treatment plants built 40 years ago or more are not even implementing denitrifying technologies (to keep nitrates from human waste out of surface waters). And as per above, we need to be doing much, much more. The kinds of new things that we have started thoughtlessly flushing down our drains in the past 30 years are creating a silent “toxic debt” that will affect environmental health for decades to come. Consumers are using new chemicals, and in larger quantities than ever before, that are more toxic, more difficult to monitor and more difficult to remove from wastewater–prescription medications, detergents, fragrances, biocides (e.g., isothiazolinones, “the next DDT”). Europe has put millions into funding next-gen technologies to deal with these threats (e.g., Projects Repharmawater and Poseidon)–technologies like ozonation, membrane, and pyrolysis–and yet Americans have done next to nothing. (A good introduction to this issue: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es040639t).

    A caveat is the paradox that the best thing that we can do to protect extra-hamlet areas (e.g., Low Intensity Use, Rural Use, Resource Management) is to keep them off sewer and water utilities altogether. That kind of amenitization is a pretext for large-scale development. Instead, we need to be actually enforcing APA regulations in those areas–shoreline setbacks, septic setbacks, and most importantly, housing density limits. We could do one better by strengthening the rulebook to better reflect the original intent of the authors of Section 805 of the APA Act to begin with. In and of itself, all of that would require new funding and commitment.

    You see, when we start talking about infrastructure, everything is connected (no pun intended). We need our spending to reflect that. Planning smart and spending smart are one and the same.

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